The Grand Palace, which is popularly known as Wang Luang in Thai, was the principal residence of the king and the royal family as well as the premise of the royal household, in the past. Among the several important buildings in the palace ground are the Phra Maha Prasat, Phra Maha Monthian and offices like the Bureau of the Royal Household and the Office of the Privy Purse.
According to ancient Thai belief, the king was venerated as Deva, a deity born to help relieve people’s troubles and alleviate poverty. Thus, the king was revered by all his subjects as the “Lord of the Land”, sent to rule the kingdom. It was deemed mandatory to provide for the king most excellent residences, facilities and guards as required, so as to prepare the ground for the monarch to perform his royal duties. It is for this reason that the Royal Palace is a grand and sprawling residence fit for a king and his royal family, with such magnificent edifices as the Phra Maha Prasat and the Phra Maha Monthian, surrounded with walls and fortifications to keep a safe distance from the ordinary way of life.
In 1782, when King Phra Buddha Yodfa Chulalok the Great founded Bangkok as the capital of Siam, the name by which Thailand was known by then, at the site which has become known as Rattanakosin Island, the plan of the new royal palace was laid out to resemble that of the Ayutthaya Period. Situated on the east bank of the Chao Phraya River, the precinct of the palace was divided into three parts, the Outer Court, the Central Court, and the Inner Court.
The Outer Court is situated at the front of the Grand Palace facing north. There the bureaus are located which directly serve the King.
The Central Court has been and still is the most important sector of the Grand Palace. There, the ensemble of the Phra Maha Prasat and Phra Maha Monthian buildings is located, which forms the centre that used to be the royal residence. It is here where the kings have officiated at eminent royal ceremonies, conducted state affairs, received foreign missions and ambassadors, and granted audiences to officials of the kingdom.
The Inner Court is situated adjacent to the Central Court, behind the grand ensemble of the Phra Maha Prasat and Phra Maha Monthian. This built-up complex that used to be the mansions of the royal consorts and the quarters of all female attendants was a zone forbidden to outsiders and to men, in particular. They were not allowed to pass the gate between the Central and Inner Courts, to enter the latter.
Circulation inside the precinct of the Grand Palace was channeled through gates at which guards were posted. Areas requiring heightened security were protected by double gates. At the gates of the Central Court leading to the Inner Court, into which only women were admitted, women guards were posted.
All residents and staff domiciled in the royal palace were obliged to adhere to traditional rules of conduct and customary regulations.
The name of the royal residence, known as Wang Luang since the reign of its founder, King Phra Buddha Yodfa Chulalok the Great, was changed by Rama V, King Chulalongkorn, to “Grand Palace”, by which it has been called ever since.
Like in the past, at present the Grand Palace, which can be likened to the “Heart of Bangkok”, is a most magnificent blend of Thai and foreign styles. It features splendid artistic details and superb proportions, reflecting the wisdom and skills of its Thai builders in the tradition of the Ayutthaya Period. All sovereigns of the ruling Royal House of Chakri have supported the preservation and restoration of the Grand Palace, although it has no longer served as the royal residence since the transition from the status of an absolute to that of a constitutional monarchy, in the year 1932. Until this day, it has continued, indeed, to serve as the venue for principal royal ceremonies.
Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat (Chakri Throne Hall)
By royal command, the Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat was built in the reign of Rama V, based on the design commissioned from John Clunis, a British architect. It is an edifice with three flights built in European style and covered with tiered roofs and spires in traditional Thai style, resulting in a magnificent architectural blend of Western and Thai styles.
The most important part of the Phra Thinang Chakri Maha Prasat is the Central Throne Hall, where the Phra Thinang Phuttanthom, the Coronation Throne of the kings of the Royal House of Chakri is placed on a multi-tiered marble dais, surmounted with a nine-tiered, white canopy and flanked by two seven-tiered, white canopies. In front of one seven-tiered canopy, an image of the Rachasi, the royal lion, and in front of the other, one of the Khochasi, the mythical animal representing a lion with an elephant trunk, are placed. Behind the throne, the emblem of the Royal House of Chakri is portrayed on the wall. Thevada statues, images of angelic deities, on either side of the Phra Thinang Phuttanthom, serve as supporting devices for the king’s sword and for the royal signet casket.
The Central Throne Hall is the venue where the King grants audiences to foreign envoys on the occasion of presenting their credentials and to well-wishers on royal birthday anniversaries. It is in this splendid setting where the King hosts state banquets for monarchs and heads of state paying official visits to the kingdom.
Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram (Wat Phra Kaeo - Temple of the Emerald Buddha)
Upon relocation of the capital of Siam from Thon Buri on the west bank to the east bank of the Chao Phraya River, by royal command of King Phra Buddha Yodfa Chulalok the Great, the plan laid out for the Grand Palace included the royal chapel. Like the palace, the temple was designed to resemble Wat PhraSi Sanphet in Ayutthaya, in its structure and position inside the walled palace precinct to the east of the Outer Court. Housing the Emerald Buddha, the temple was named Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram.
On the days dedicated to the worshipping of Lord Buddha, popularly known as wan phra, one day during each week identified according to the traditional lunar calendar, and on Sundays according to the Western calendar, access for worshippers and visitors is through the gate named Sawaddi Sopha, to worship, pray and pay their respect. On other days, believers and visitors are welcome to enter through the gate named Wiset Chaisi.
The covered cloisters of Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram, open to the inner precinct, surround the entire temple complex. The cloister walls are covered with mural paintings that feature the Ramakian epic in its version recorded by King Phra Buddha Yodfa Chulalok the Great, Rama I. The Ramakian, a modified variant of the Indian Ramayana epic, tells and depicts the great power of Rama, an incarnation of the deity Narai, whose task was to help mankind, according to the widely upheld tradition in several cultures of South and Southeast Asia. In relating the epic, the mural paintings depict Thai people’s way of life, their culture, traditions, fine arts and architecture. To view them in proper sequence, it is advised to proceed anti-clockwise.
This most important edifice was built in the year 1783, in the reign of Rama I. It is a large structure resting on a curved base, in the traditional Thai style known as thong samphao, characteristic of the late Ayutthaya Period. Its wooden, carved and gilded pediments support Phra Narai mounted on a Garuda, the latter holding in firm grip the tail of a serpent-demon, known as Naga.
The interior of the Phra Ubosot is extremely refined, decorated in patterns of traditional Thai style. The mural paintings in its four walls relate the life of Lord Buddha. In the centre of the hall, the image known as the Emerald Buddha is placed on an elevated busabok or throne in the shape of a prasat with tiered roof.
At present, the Phra Ubosot of Wat Phra Si Rattana Satsadaram is the principal site at which the King performs eminent religious rites and officiates at royal ceremonies. These include such events as the royal merit-making with religious rites on Visakha Bucha Day and royal ordination rites, and ceremonies such as drinking the holy water to pledge allegiance to the King and the inscribing on golden plates of the names of personages elevated to a higher rank.
Phra Buddha Mahamani Rattana Patimakon (The Emerald Buddha)
The statue of the Emerald Buddha shows the Lord Buddha in meditation posture. At the time of its consecration, in the year 1784, two splendid robes, richly decorated with gold and precious stones, had been provided, for the statue to be draped, one used in the hot and the other in the rainy season. During the reign of Rama III, a third robe was added for the winter season. On the auspicious occasion of the Bangkok Bicentennial celebration in 1982, by royal command of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej three new robes were created. The robes would be changed by the King or, at times, by a member of the royal family granted royal permission to officiate.
The changing of the distinctly different robes is scheduled as follows:
Summer season: On the first day of the waning moon of the fourth lunar month, around March or April: an ornamental attire decked out with jewels set in an artistically wrought gold mesh
Rainy season: On the first day of the waning moon of the eighth lunar month, around July or August: covered in
the style of a robed monk
Winter season: On the first day of the waningmoon of the twelfth lunar month, around November or December: clothed entirely in a preciously embellished cover, except for the head.
Select Eminent and Fascinating Monuments in the Temple Compound
Replica of Angkor Wat: Upon royal command by Rama IV, King Mongkut, a miniature replica of Angkor Wat was constructed. It
serves the purpose to raise awareness among the population of the close historical links between the Thai and the Khmer.
Phra Wihan Yot: This rectangular building with four porches and a spire in the form of a Thai crown, decorated with ceramic plates, porcelain sherds and tile fragments, is one of the most beautiful specimens of the style that is characteristic of the Rattanakosin Period. The door and window frames are decorated in like manner. The royal initials Jor Por Ror of Rama V are portrayed on the door and window lintels. The door panels on the north side, inlaid with mother-of pearl, were brought from the Wihan of Wat Pa Mok in Ang Thong Province of Central Thailand. They are masterpieces of Thai craftsmanship in the Ayutthaya Period, created during the reign of King Borommakot.
Thavaraban – The Giant Guardians: Alongside the walls with the two gates for the public to the ground of the Temple of the Emerald Buddha,
there are six pairs of giants covered with porcelain fragments. Four pairs guard the ground along the gate named Wiset Chaisi, and two pairs the gate called Sawaddi Sopha. These large-size, tall statues represent the characters of giants from the Ramakian epic, the Thai version of the Indian Ramayana epic.
Phra Rishi – The Hermit: Therishi or hermits were especially knowledgeable in traditional medicine and skilled in administering cures for illnesses. This bronze statue shows a rishi, his face radiating a benevolent air, seated and holding a mortar with pestle in front of him. This image was cast during the reign of Rama III.
Two Oxen: Two bronze oxen cast during the reign of Rama IV are in front of the Ubosot. In historical time, they were
installed in front of the royal pavilion at the annual Royal Ploughing Ceremony.
Taken from: Thailand: Traits and Treasures. The National Identity Board, Royal Thai Government 2005.
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